state capitalism?

Wed Jun 19 15:21:35 MDT 1996

I would like to expand on Adam's initial comments on the
similarities (and differences) between the Stalinist states and
"intermediate" state capitalisms like Egypt and Algeria.

My point is that the "Egypts" and "Cubas" of the
post-World War 2 world had parallel histories.

Bourgeois nationalists in the oppressed countries looked to the
Soviet Union for support against imperialism and as a model for
their own countries. To fend off the imperialists, the nation
needs to mobilize and retain the bulk of its own internally
produced surplus value, so that the fruits of exploitation can be
put to use at home rather than abroad. It also has to repress
internal capitalists who have interests tied more directly to
imperialism. And it has to keep down independent activity by
workers and peasants, whose aspirations for a better life are
whetted by the anti-imperialist struggle. These conditions
require a centralized state apparatus, and the Stalinist Soviet
model (not the 1917 example of workers' revolution!) provided it.

In countries where the old bourgeoisie was too weak, the CPs took
over and carried out nationalizations bureaucratically. But they
first sought to lead coalitions with shadow bourgeois parties, to
legitimize their own role in defense of the national capital. At
a second stage, when imperialism wouldn't accept the CPs' leading
role, they moved to eliminate most private property, after having
incorporated some bourgeois elements into the state apparatus.
But the exploitation relation between capital and labor is not
changed simply by statification from above.

In most of the former colonial countries, separation from
imperialism was won by non-Stalinist petty-bourgeois forces who
neither could decapitate their proletariats as effectively as the
Stalinists nor wished to centralize property to the same extent.
Whether Stalinist or not, the new nationalist rulers saw their
goal as defending and expanding the nation-state and the national
capital. Some chose to welcome imperialist investment; others
preferred to build up local industries with state aid to produce
needed goods at home rather than import them. Almost all used
some form of socialist or populist rhetoric to justify
strengthening the state and capital.

In this light, the theory of permanent revolution has to be
extended. A central point of Trotsky's theory was that the
bourgeoisie feared to challenge *any* form of property, given the
potential threat of the proletariat. Therefore throughout this
century it has been unable to carry out the democratic and
national tasks of the bourgeois revolution: Trotsky assigned that
task to the proletariat.

But under specific conditions -- where the proletariat has been
defeated or decapitated and its threat to property thereby
temporarily removed, and where the traditional bourgeoisie is too
feeble to pose even a temporary break from imperialism --
elements from the bureaucratic middle classes have seized the
reins of power. Such nationalists could even resort to the
dangerous step of statifying property, if the workers had been
effectively excluded from independent activity.

The theory of permanent revolution illuminates the initial
success and the later collapse of third-world nationalism. In
1930 Trotsky wrote a perceptive critique of Stalin's policy of
"national socialism," which applies with equal force to the
postwar third-world countries:

"Marxism proceeds from world economy, not as a sum of national
parts but as a mighty, independent reality, which is created by
the international division of labor and the world market, and, in
the present epoch, predominates over the national markets. The
productive forces of capitalist society have long ago grown
beyond the national frontier. The imperialist war was an
expression of this fact. In the productive-technical respect,
socialist society must represent a higher stage compared to

"To aim at the construction of a *nationally isolated* socialist
society means, in spite of all temporary successes, to pull the
productive forces backward even as compared to capitalism. To
attempt, regardless of the geographic, cultural and historical
conditions of the country's development, which constitutes a part
of the world whole, to realize a fenced-in proportionality of all
the branches of economy within national limits, means to pursue a
reactionary utopia."

Indeed, national economic independence for the ex-colonial
countries could only be temporary during the period of relative
prosperity after the war. This was the time when the bureaucratic
middle strata grew rapidly in all countries. The illusions of
viable third systems and in third-world nationalism reflected the
self-inflation of these layers. The new nationalist rulers
eventually had to break from the fantasy that they could flourish
independent of international capitalism.

China today is following a path heading the same way as the "African
socialists" and "Arab socialists" of yesteryear.

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